The average first-time novelist would be thrilled if even one famous person said something nice about his or her writing -- so imagine how excited Kathi Kamen Goldmark is: The jacket of her inaugural offering, And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You, includes rave reviews from best-selling authors such as Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Scott Turow and Carl Hiaasen, who calls her tome "a fine, rollicking ballad about lost loves and lost royalties."
How did Goldmark get so lucky? For one thing, she wrote a highly enjoyable narrative about country music, a topic that's too often dismissed or patronized. But just as important, she's the woman who created the Rock Bottom Remainders, an amateur rock group that features well-known scribes. Its membership at one time or another has included Tan, Barry, Turow and Hiaasen, not to mention Stephen King, Matt Groening, Dave Marsh and more.
Goldmark isn't entirely new to publishing. She's a singer, songwriter and frontwoman of a combo called Train Wreck, but she's made her living for over a decade in various book-publicity posts -- undoubtedly the inspiration for the name of her indie label, Don't Quit Your Day Job Records (at www.dqydj.com). In the early '90s, her work as a media escort brought her into contact with oodles of writers, and after learning that many of them were wannabe musicians, she came up with the concept of the Remainders. The combo debuted at a 1992 booksellers' convention, subsequently issued a charity CD dubbed Stranger Than Fiction and recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.
"We're getting really old for rock and roll," Goldmark allows. "I've seen a lot of improvement in people's playing over the ten years. But if you heard us and didn't know who we were, you'd think you were at a suburban used-car-lot opening or a bar mitzvah. We're not a great band, but we have a great time."
During that stretch, Goldmark got a couple of opportunities to write alongside the pros, contributing to an account of a Remainders' tour called Mid-Life Confidential and co-authoring The Great Rock 'n' Roll Joke Book with Marsh. But it took her a while before she felt confident enough to start scribbling a tale of her own: "I was sort of sitting on the bench watching everyone hit home runs and thinking, 'Would it be okay to try this?'"
After answering this question in the affirmative, Goldmark summoned up Sara Jean Pixlie, a onetime backup singer who careens in and out of fame on the basis of songs like "My Baby Used to Hold Me (Now He's Putting Me on Hold)." This tune, like many others quoted in Shoes, actually exists, and Goldmark concedes that she's engaging in wishful thinking by imagining that such material could turn someone into a star. Yet the fantasy aspect of her account is among its most appealing elements. Sara Jean's world is hardly free of jealousy, back-stabbing and rip-offs, but it's also a place where real-life cult performers such as Buddy Miller and Dallas Wayne are widely appreciated, and good things eventually happen to good people.
At first, Goldmark was nervous about sharing her manuscript with her Rock Bottom colleagues. "Amy Tan read it on an airplane with me sitting right next to her," she remembers. "I was looking at her the whole time, thinking, 'She giggled! What page did she giggle on?' Or, 'Oh, my God -- she fell asleep on page 142!'"
In the end, Goldmark received positive feedback from her bandmates. She returns the favor when she's asked about the best musicians among the crew. "Dave Barry is a darned good lead guitarist. And Stephen King is -- well, he's still learning his bar chords, but he's getting good at those."
She'll have to do better than that, though, if she wants King to write something nice about her next book.